I had the great good fortune to have a wonderful conversation with Georgina Varveris, Open Door Yoga owner and teacher. Georgina talked about her fact finding mission to Shree Mangal School for misplaced children in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Maya: Could you speak a little about Open Door Yoga’s involvement with the school so far, and the students at the school. You have called this a school for misplaced children, what does that mean?
Georgina: There are seven hundred kids at the school. Most come from rural areas, where there is no access to education. Especially during the time China was occupying Tibet many kids were misplaced because they fled due to conflict. Many of the children now at the school come from conflict, or their parents sent them away to get an education, They were all somewhat orphaned without wanting to be. Parents saw sending their children away to school as a better avenue, a way to give them more of a chance at life. There are lots of complications why they are there, Most have lost family or are far away. There are no roads to the school, students walk miles for weeks to get to Kathmandu, the routes are dangerous, some places I would never trek myself.
Regarding our involvement so far; we have a student who we have been sponsoring for about eight years while she has been growing up. I haven’t seen her in person and I am excited to see her on my trip. We have been giving money for books and school supplies and have got to know the school well and the administrative staff. We have seen that what they do is phenomenal and we want to expand our connection with the school, and what we offer. I see it as a great way for open door yoga to grow more into the karmic branch of the organization, our charity We Are One.
Maya: You have called your trip a fact finding mission, what are the facts you are specifically interested in discovering, and how do these facts contribute to setting up Open Door Yoga’s new work at the school?
Georgina: We want to find out how best we can help, how we can empower the students by finding out more specifically what their needs are. We are looking to set up housing for the volunteers, and to set up the rooms where the classes will be taught for the teacher training. We are looking for the philosophy teacher that will suit the position. Really all the details of running this in Nepal from Visas to Accommodation to things I haven’t yet thought of.
Maya: What kind of plans do you have for Open Door Yoga’s presence at Shree Mangal school, in regard to empowering the students?
I want to bring yoga teachers from everywhere there, so they can teach or help at the school in various ways. Kids in the last grade, if they show an interest and ability in yoga can take the teacher training program for free. Many people don’t have jobs, most sustain themselves with small farms. There are close to no jobs, not enough work in Kathmandu. Tourism is the main industry. Yoga is huge in India but not many people go to Nepal for yoga . Although many people go to trek, and it would be an ideal opportunity to be able to learn yoga from a Nepalese.
We will begin with the teacher training graduates from Open Door, who will be invited to the school as an optional part of their course, an extra two weeks to go to Nepal to have this work experience where they will teach or volunteer helping with the school. One director is from Victoria, she has done some presentations for Open Door Yoga to get sponsors and info out, we have become close over the years. The kids love yoga, they are so amazing, so open, full of wonder and full of doubt as well, really ready to learn.
Maya: What brought you to teach yoga and inspired you to begin the work with this project, and why Nepal?
Georgina: I always knew I was a teacher. I knew when I was a little kid. I mean we are all teachers, we really are. I really got that in an intuitive way, it was a gut feeling, I realized it wasn’t me saying it from my head, being that serious, but there was part of the answer, something I wasn’t connecting to, to begin with.
I was teaching English and trekking through the Himalayas, on my way home I got to Nepal and had this very profound, connected moment, and I thought if I die now it’s okay. I had never made that connection with death before. I went back to my practice and through yoga practice and training a lot of things made sense. I never really put Nepal back into the picture until Hogan and I decided what Open Door Yoga was about, and our vision for We are One.
Maya: What can teachers interested in teaching and helping at the school expect, in regard to every day living? Could you talk a little about Nepalese culture, history and geography, some elements teachers would be living with that would be useful to know in advance. Certain instances that they need to be particularly aware of being respectful of cultural differences.
Georgina: The school practices a very yogic life style, there is mediation every day, everything is in balance, it’s a real balanced life style. They have their own Rinpoches and monks that come and do some training with the school. What better setting to live in, the middle path. India is different, it’s got crazy busy.
Teachers can expect to eat a vegetarian diet. Dahl Bhat is the main dish. This is lentils and rice three times a day, with some type of bread perhaps. Not a lot of variety in the food, which is really part of the experience. Not being able to gratify emotions and get all kinds of sensations with food, simply sustaining oneself with necessary nutrition.
Kathmandu is not at all like Delhi or Mumbai. You can’t get whatever you want, but you can in India. Kathmandu is a capital city but there is probably only 2 hours per day of power and it’s very sporadic. Kathmandu is very cut off because they have very limited access and very limited technology. They live without the use of things we are so use to, most obviously cars in Katmandu. Beyond taking the bus, maybe sitting on a roof, you mostly walk and walk and walk, you just keep walking, things are pretty slow.
Nepal is a combination of Buddhist and Hindi. It is a combination of the two pretty strong philosophies and cultures, I know more about Buddhism as it is more popular in the west, but I am not a Buddhist, I appreciate both cultures of these two cultures living together in Nepal . I have traveled so much and have experienced that in any country it is good to be sensitive to the way of life. In Nepal I have found you do need to be very respectful, it isn’t an all about me society. The individual isn’t the rule, the rule is more the community, and I see that as mostly being the case in East Asia. I see it in Thailand, in Taiwan, in Japan, Nepal, India. I mean there are aspects of India where it has got so crazy. In Nepal there are no rich people. I have seen that everybody is poor. In India you see a lot of rich people. To answer your question to be respectful of the culture, they live together with lots of different influences. Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian. I haven’t lived in Nepal enough to say I understand how they interact, but as a person from outside the country you would do well to instead of forcing your identity on people, take on the beginners mind, be accepting of what is going on, with doubt. Some of it has to change, there is error of the way everywhere, not just in north America.
Regarding women’s roles, it is strange to see a woman on her own, I don’t think of Nepal as dangerous, but it is peculiar for them to see a white woman trekking around, I wear a skirt over pants, I would sometimes wear my clothes like this when I came back to Canada before realizing I don’t need to wear this anymore. In regard to respecting parts of the culture, it surprises me when people come into a new culture and they are not getting it, why would people not see that… Maybe I understand in the way I do because I’ve traveled since I was a kid, But also I came here as a Greek kid who couldn’t speak English. It made me aware of other people’s needs. Ask any immigrant kid, we just want to fit in so badly, so we let go of our identity. There is good and bad in every way of being. There is also wanting to fit in because you’re insecure and you are in so much pain, and you don’t want to touch the pain, you just wanted to be accepted. I lived in Japan for seven years and I understood I was never going to be accepted in Japan, and eventually I couldn’t live in a culture where people were never going to accept me. But looking back it was a lesson for me to accept myself more. I wasn’t accepting myself and they were mirroring that to me. At some point in life self acceptance has to come from within.
To go to a country like Nepal, it’s an old culture, very traditional, we probably have to be more sensitive, and we are so young as a culture so we are not really rooted in any culture, we are still exploring that. Maybe give it back to the native Indians where it belongs some day because until we do that there will be this lack of being able to forgive ourselves for that. How can we live here when we have taken so much, and even those treaties that have been signed, I don’t know how many we have honoured. I’d like to talk to someone, to know, I think we’ve signed a lot but there isn’t a lot of happy or real resolve. We still have reserves, what the heck is that, we still have this separate way of treating each other.
I think if conflict hasn’t been resolved it hasn’t been resolved, we have got to come together and solve it or we are constantly going to be in chaos or strife. We are never going to be able to find peace within, if we don’t make awareness.
In regard to the political situation, Nepal had a royal family and still do, but they are not a ruling monarchy. There was a bit of a tyranny with the royal family. The Maoists came in and wanted more equality for the people. People were poor, the king and queen were super rich and controlled all the wealth, everyone lived these sub standard levels of life. Maoists took over but in a way that was so violent. They went into villages, took the kids to be part of the war, basically used the kids, kidnapped the kids, would take them to orphanages in Kathmandu and would get money for the kids. Most of who suffered were the kids. Some were given up by their parents who believed their children were going to get a better life. A lot of people were killed. It went on for a log time. Because it’s such an unimportant place, there’s no oil… nobody talked about it, nobody cared. People couldn’t get away with what happened there in a lot of other places in the world. Even in Africa there is a lot of awareness. This is a lot of what I hear, and that politically its much more stable now, they came to a truce.
Maya: Will you have a role in the day to day running of the school once it is set up, or is your role mainly in setting it up and appointing the best staff for the ongoing daily running of the school?
Georgina: I see more setting it up. I don’t see myself living there. Maybe in the beginning I will have to spend more time in Nepal, maybe living there on a semi permanent basis. Once it’s established I’ll be running it from Vancouver, but who knows. It’s nice to come home and eat chocolate. I haven’t been there for a long time. Fifteen years maybe. I know it’s changed a lot and you can get chocolate in Kathmandu now, but its hard. I plan to go to some rural areas. There’s just Dahl Bhat, you’re wearing everything in your back pack, no heating. Bring lots of warm clothes! The elevation is higher, oxygen is thinner, breathing can be hard, which means it is good to be healthy when you arrive.
Thank you Georgina!